Asian Triumphalism

The blaring red 36-point font on the cover of the latest issue of Foreign Affairs insists, “Is America in Decline?” which immediately caught my attention, of Spenglarian tendencies as I am. Turns out it’s just an abridgement of Fareed Zakaria’s new book, The Post-American World. Turns out it’s all hype and the article hims and haws around an answer of “no.” But the issue also contains and adaptation of Kishore Mahbubani’s The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East as well as a reviews of Amy Chua’s Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall, Parag Khanna’s The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order as well as top billing, Fareed Zakaria’s book.

And wow, there sure are a number of books out about the certainty of U.S. relative decline. But there is something distinct about this list of authors: they’re all Asians. Fareed Zakaria was born in Mumbai, India, Kishore Mahbubani is a citizen of Singapore, Amy Chua is a first generation American of Chinese descent and Parag Khanna was born in Kanpur, India. And I’m not cherry-picking. This is lifted from a single issue of Foreign Affairs. And I’m not suggesting that they’re part of some Asian propaganda front. They’re all correct in their analysis. The United States is experiencing decline relative to a rising Asia and other countries.

What puzzles me is that there isn’t a similarly prominent cohort of white guys writing books saying the same thing. I am reminded of John Mearsheimer’s “China’s Unpeaceful Rise,” (Current History, vol. 105, no. 690, April 2006, pp. 160-162), but the issue of the relative decline is for Mr. Mearsheimer a subordinate point to his “tragedy of great power politics” shtick and he is writing it in a down market publication. I’m sure white people making the same point are out there, but why so little known? Is there something about actually being Asian that makes one prone to see and accept this point and something about being white that puts one in a massive state of denial? Or do publisher think there’s something novel and amusing about publishing such voices? Is there something about our discourse on relative decline that we feel the need to give it Asian spokespeople? Will Thomas Friedman’s next book be on the relative decline of the United States and the rise of Asia? Did Paul Kennedy write it so long ago that is doesn’t bear revisit?